[28 november 2009]
She took him to her neighborhood once to show him where she grew up. Her parents’ house, her elementary school a few blocks away (“…but that jungle gym is new…”), her church—around the corner from all the strip clubs and karaoke bars. Both her parents’ cars in the driveway. It was the middle of the night, they were out late after a show in Pomona, the streets were dark and empty. A few windows jumpy bluish white with TV. A detour off the 60 on the way back to LA. He told her that it looked like most of the neighborhoods where he grew up (“…only, we didn’t own the houses, we rented, we were always getting evicted, but they looked like these, and the streets were like this…”). Passing through La Puente after West Covina on the way there, a WIC office on the right. “Now this shit is starting to look familiar,” he’d said. “Half my childhood was spent standing in line outside the WIC.”
Such a bullshitter, she imagined him thinking to himself. “Such a bullshitter,” she wanted to say—but didn’t.
His bullshit was always about fifty-fifty, you never knew.
“Where was the other half spent?” she said.
“At your mom’s.”
“Stupid.” She hit him on the arm.
“I never know when you’re performing,” she’d said during the show.
“If I had my phone with me I would tweet this right now,” she’d said.
“That’s cool. I like your tweeters,” he’d said.
“Wait,” he’d said, “Did you say tweeter? Or is it twittering? How do you say it? I like your twits?”
Such a bullshitter.
“You spilled wine on my foot. Are you going to lick it off?” she’d said.
And then later, the next morning, when she told him how she still took her stuffed animal everywhere with her when she traveled—how she was taking it, in fact, to her boyfriend’s now:
“Okay, I think that it’s time to put the little mono back up on the shelf,” he’d said.
The WIC office was located at Story and King, next to Mi Pueblo market, kitty-corner from the Tropicana Shopping Center. By the time I was 10, I had an intimate psychogeographical awareness and knowledge of every Mexicano bar in the city. Copa-Cabana. Latin Village. La Estrella. Lupe’s. Which had pool tables. Which had table Ms. Pac-Man. Which had both. Some with videogame arcades nearby.
Recently, I suggested to my homeboy that our cut-off should be Nintendo-NES I (I compromised on NES II). He was describing how he’d had to explain Atari cartridges to his date. “Look, if she doesn’t know Super Mario Brothers, brother,” I’d said, “then you need to step away from the cradle.”
A ten dollar bill—forty quarters—one hundred-twenty lives. Dad in the bar next door. Calculate how many hours you will have to wait this time. Burning through those quarters, one life after another, drunk, he says to you later, “I think that you have a problem con esos pinches juegos. I think that you are addicted to those video games.”
Next time, you will be sure to keep the quarters rolled up in your fist for when you sucker punch the fucker right in the balls.
Another crazy trip home in the truck, pedagogy of the drunken drivers. Here, at last, Professor, are the historical-materialist origins of my deconstructivist leanings—instability, meaning constantly deferred, the whole world slipping infinitely away every moment, fragments, perpetual danger, lives constantly undoing themselves. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Put that in your armchair and revolt on it. Put another quarter into the machine. Watch the chicken dance. East San José a jagged discontinuity against the emerging silicon slick all around. The homes of the rich and emerging rich in foothills and nicer areas around and away from us. This was our business. Ornamental wrought iron “custom-made” for their windows and doors.
My father and I, building the cages of the rich. Locking ourselves out; locking them in.
The scrolls in the ornamental wrought iron, my father tack-welding in place, in the empty spaces between. Right angles, parallel tubing, one-and-a-half inch frames all around. This is what we call the formational solid fusion, the First Five, the rows of perfectly straight lines, the effort to keep them perfectly straight—outside the bars now, not inside.
One of my jobs, nine years old:
In the afternoon, my father installing iron bars on the homes we dream of owning, my father behind bars on visiting day, my father here in this cell, just kicking it with me, lives just scrolling around the same tired spiraling abbreviated moulds. One hundred-twenty life sentences broken by bad grammar and fragmented by inappropriate punctuation. Put another quarter into the machine. My father dancing around the shop in blue overalls. Pérez Prado, Los Apson, the occasional ABBA.
The flattening, the arclight spark, you move through these things backward from finish to start.
“Hey dad,” I say, “once again, the end product is this flowery cage. You are a master of Conceptual Art. You are a master of Performance Art. Con-man all around, and round and round. I never know when you’re performing.”
He says something about Jesus. I make a flat face. No protective mask in here.
The tail end of a conversation, refraction of black and white light way past midnight. Grappling with lavender “flowery,” the smell of metal shavings, white-hot fusion, spark of Arc welder, a layer of gasoline and glossy black paint ever-present underneath, the dissipating reverse glow of fusion cooling. Fingernails infinitely dense black crescents.
The next spark of white light moving, keep it moving. A steady line. A slow-motion race.
Fourth of July sparklers on white-tipped Dahlia crack. Your father’s face safe behind Arc-light mask—moments when you sneak a peek, slitted eyelids in the light. Everpresent danger of illumination that blinds. Overwhelming temptation of a stark white brilliance. A seamless bind.
I start telling him about the dream, then stop and begin to write it on the floor with fingertips in metallic dust. In it I speak with a woman whose face I can’t read. We are flat faces mirroring, and something in this unsettling is strangely comforting. A game I recognize, oscillating dissymmetry of mirroring echo void. Flat spirals twisting, unraveling unfold. “One-way screws can still be taken out,” she reminds. “You grind a slot into the head and twist them out with a screwdriver, or some vice-grips; or, si no puedes así, pues, you can always weld a bar straight onto the screw and then twist that shit out.”
“Welds can be grinded down, chiseled, hammered away,” I say, more out of outclassed valiant hope than anything else. “Bars can be twisted apart.”
“The mould is only clamped onto the table; the scroll can be unraveled,” she says, “and in the end, you are left with flatbar deformed, bumps and remains of untwists, the traces of ornament undone, partially erased but never fully abandoned. The concrete echo on my face—hammer pounding metal chingazos into the floor, vibrating hard up into your knees into each hemisphere into space. There will be minor damage—cartilage, eardrums, numb hands, bones—but nothing too serious that you can’t survive.”
“Refraction of metal, concrete, heat, combustible materials. Arclight flowers thrown off concealed, dark-plated eyes.”
“When we take off this mask, we will read it all between the lines.”
“There is something to be said for opening pupils wide on fusing heat and blinding light.”
image+text copyright ©2009 by Ruben R. Mendoza. All rights reserved.
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